Francine Prose Interview, plus links to author biography, book summaries, excerpts and reviews

Francine Prose
© Marion Ettinger

Francine Prose

An interview with Francine Prose

Francine Prose discusses our obsession with celebrity and redemption and why she feels that we are losing an important part of our culture - the ability to feel that others are human beings just as we are, though they may look different and have a different set of beliefs.

You open your novel A Changed Man with a character most of your readers probably have never met: the ex-skinhead Vincent Nolan. Was this "changed man" the inspiration for the book?
I certainly began with him. I was on the subway in New York once, and I saw these two very young skinheads -- all dressed up, with jackboots and shaved heads -- and I noticed that they looked terrified, like they'd been dropped from Mars. It was very clear to me that they were out of their element; this was not their home territory at all. That made me curious about who they were and what kind of people they were. Then I began to do research.

It's strange how life imitates art. Later I was in an elevator in Manhattan, and there was a middle-aged guy with his hair growing over tattoos on his head -- it looked as if a swastika had been there, and the laser removal hadn't done a good job. I thought this is my character, 10 years later.

Were there other topics you were keeping in mind as you wrote?
My aim was to write about this character, but I wasn't necessarily writing about neo-Nazis. I was writing about what it means to be a good person, what it means to change -- and how our culture hypes this change, this growing. As I was writing, I was dealing with the nature of American culture and the way in which anything can be turned into a publicity scam. Everyone in the novel is scamming to a degree. And more so than hatred, there's the idea of class resistance.

There's an element of suspense as to whether (and how much) Vincent will change -- did you know what he would do, or did that emerge as you wrote?

You hear writers say that their characters have a life of their own, and I had this experience with this book more than any other. Once I set these characters up and put them into motion, I really had no idea what would happen. The challenge was figuring out what Vincent's inner life is, his moral life -- how he distinguishes between good and evil, and what conscience is.

The American obsession with celebrity and redemption is put under the microscope here -- Bonnie's son, Danny, even becomes an object of this toward the end. How difficult do you think this obsession makes it for people to truly examine their beliefs?

It makes it much more difficult. If the mirror you're looking at yourself in is a TV talk show where by the end of the hour [the guests'] soul is revealed and people resolve to live new lives, and the reality of your own life is quite different, it's got to be discouraging.

I noticed that there are very few scenes in fiction where people are watching TV, there's the moment late in the book where Bonnie and her kids are watching themselves on TV, and I thought this was something I definitely wanted to do.

Did you intend to push reader's buttons?
I knew I had a risky topic, but I hope that the minute readers meet these characters, they'll feel about them the way I do. I have compassion for them, I never think of myself as having a moral. But certainly what seems so important to me now is what it seems we're losing in our culture: the very basic ability to empathize, to feel that others are human beings just as we are, though they may look different and have a different set of beliefs. Everything, to me, comes from that: civility, democracy, civic responsibility, and peace.

Ending the book where you did, with the suggestion of a future between Vincent and Bonnie, what do you think might have happened with them?
Who knows -- stranger marriages have taken place! I was very sorry to finish the book. But as a writer I like endings like Chekhov's story "Lady with a Dog," ending with a beginning -- it's perfect.



Interview conducted by Anne Sanow, Originally published in Publishers Weekly, reprinted with permission of Publishers Weekly and Harper Collins. Copyright 2004.

Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Books by this Author

Books by Francine Prose at BookBrowse
The Vixen jacket What to Read and Why jacket Mister Monkey jacket Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 jacket
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

All the books below are recommended as readalikes for Francine Prose but some maybe more relevant to you than others depending on which books by the author you have read and enjoyed. So look for the suggested read-alikes by title linked on the right.
How we choose readalikes

  • Christopher Buckley

    Christopher Buckley

    Christopher Buckley is a novelist, essayist, humorist, critic, magazine editor and memoirist. His books include Thank You for Smoking, The Judge Hunter, and The Relic Master. He worked as a merchant seaman and White House ... (more)

    If you enjoyed:
    A Changed Man

    Try:
    Boomsday
    by Christopher Buckley

  • Alan Furst

    Alan Furst

    Alan Furst was born and raised on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. An only child with older parents, he wandered alone or with friends around New York and learned to love the city and its people. He attended Oberlin College,... (more)

We recommend 12 similar authors

View all 12 Readalikes

Non-members can see 2 results. Become a member
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Join BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Find out more


Today's Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Yolk
    Yolk
    by Mary Choi
    Mary H.K. Choi's young adult offering Yolk deftly maintains several plotlines running through the ...
  • Book Jacket: The Blizzard Party
    The Blizzard Party
    by Jack Livings
    It is 1978 and the place is New York City. A massive bacchanalian party is taking place at an Upper ...
  • Book Jacket: The Light of Days
    The Light of Days
    by Judy Batalion
    Renia, Sarah, Zivia, Frumka, Hantze, Tosia, Vladka, Chajka, Gusta, Hela, Bela, Lonka, Tema, Chasia, ...
  • Book Jacket: Hummingbird Salamander
    Hummingbird Salamander
    by Jeff VanderMeer
    In Hummingbird Salamander, Jeff VanderMeer weaves cybersecurity, bioterrorism, wildlife trafficking ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Of Women and Salt
    by Gabriela Garcia

    A kaleidoscopic portrait of generations of women from a 19th-century Cuban cigar factory to the present day.

    Reader Reviews
  • Book Jacket

    The Funny Thing About Norman Foreman
    by Julietta Henderson

    A charming, uplifting debut about a mother and her 12-year-old son, an aspiring comedian.

    Reader Reviews
Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
Miss Austen
by Gill Hornby
A witty, poignant novel about Cassandra Austen and her famous sister, Jane.
Win This Book!
Win The Beauty of Your Face

A New York Times Notable Book of 2020

"Stunning.… A timely family saga with faith and forgiveness at its core."
Marie Claire

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

It's N S O M N

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.